Sunday, May 4, 2008

Review - "Souls", "Fire Watch", and "Melancholy Elephants"

Michael Whelan
1983 Hugo Winner for Best Professional Artist
1983 World Fantasy Award Winner for Best Artist

by Joanna Russ

1983 Hugo Winner for Best Novella

An unusual abbess stands against a viking invasions and tries to save the lives of the villagers that surround her abbey in this short story that never manages to be predictable and offers a lot of touching moments. The story could have easily descended into predictable structures and somehow Russ managed to keep taking things to a slightly different place. Early on I suspected that having the person with modern attitudes as the protagonist in a medieval setting would get to me but Russ quickly introduces a reason why their behavior is so strange. This is a sharp, brutal story which works well since it doesn't pull the punches with its setting.

"Fire Watch"
by Connie Willis

1983 Hugo Winner for Best Novelette
1982 Nebula Winner for Best Novelette

I'm not sure of the time line of Willis's time travel stories; this might be the earliest one but it shares characters with and refers to events that would turn up in her later stories. This time an unprepared time traveler is sent to the blitz to help defend St. Paul's cathedral against incendiary devices where he is forced to watch a miserable history play out.

Does that sound a little familiar? Willis goes to the same well over and over again and she manages to refine the concept over time. This isn't a bad story (even with the predictable "twist" at the end that plays off some of the more popular college urban legends), it's just that she does the same ideas better later on and for that reason I'd recommend seeking out her books rather than going out of the way for this story.

"Melancholy Elephants"
by Spider Robinson

1983 Hugo Winner for Best Short Story

This was a surprisingly timely story. Congress has before it a proposal to extend copyright indefinitely and a representative of a lobbying group for artists is trying to stop it. There's a lot of reasons that a perpetual copyright is a bad idea but this story focuses on one unique reason that ties into the lawsuits that science fiction authors had been filing against different films for being similar to their work (van Vogt's lawsuit against Alien is explicitly named in the story). The story exists mainly to make it's philosophical point and I don't necessarily agree with the conclusion but it's an interesting concept.